Preaching Resources

Preaching Mission for the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 26, 2023)

Members of the Estamos Unidos Moravian Church on a Mission Trip near Laurel Springs, NC

Waking Up A Slumbering Faith
by Bishop Chris Giesler

 Preaching Text: John 11:1-45

Most of us don’t have a good relationship with our alarm clocks. We see them as a necessary evil in our lives.  They are there to jar us from a comfortable sleep and help us start our active day.  While there are a few mornings that I am awake just waiting for time to get up, most mornings, it is the alarm clock that startles me from a peaceful slumber and into action for the day.  I know of very few people that love their alarm clocks.  But today, Jesus seeks to wake us from the peaceful slumber or the frightful nightmare that our spiritual lives can become.

For the last few weeks, the assigned Gospel readings from the lectionary have had us on a journey with the Gospel of John.  Three weeks ago, we read about Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. In that encounter, Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again.  After a confused conversation, he learned that Jesus was talking about spiritual rebirth. This, in turn, invited us to consider what parts of our lives need renewal or a re-birth.

Two weeks ago, we met the Samaritan woman at the well who heard Jesus say he had water to quench thirst forever. After another confused conversation, she discovered that Jesus was talking about spiritual thirst.  This, in turn, invited us to consider what parts of our souls were thirsty and needed this life-giving water.

Last week we looked at the encounter between Jesus and the man born blind. At first, the controversy swirled around the physical act of healing on the Sabbath.   After the lengthy trial before the Pharisees, who had boxed God into a corner, we saw that this was about Spiritual blindness, and we wondered where we too might be blind to the work of God right around us.

This week we have Jesus coming to Lazarus and his family, and this time we are talking about death. To make a very long story short, let’s say that this account is not here in the Bible to show us how powerful Jesus was; it is here to wake us up from the sleep into which we can sometimes fall. But before we get too deep into that, however, a few fascinating aspects of this story need to be highlighted.

There is much to explore in preaching this passage, including why Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness but waits to respond to the need until the opportune time.  Was he waiting for Lazarus to die just so that he could show his power?  But wrapped up within that possibility of Jesus’ intentionally delaying his arrival in Bethany is this one verse that causes me to pause every time I hear it. “Jesus wept.”  For me, Jesus’ wept because his heart was broken for his friends, Mary and Martha.  He wept not for Lazarus but for the grief his friends were now having to endure.

All of that deserves some attention, but for this blog focused on mission, I would like to call us to search our hearts and lives to find what causes this spiritual slumber.  In searching my own life, here are a few suggestions:

  1. The most frequent cause is complacency. We allow our relationship with God to become a routine rather than a life-giving and life-changing part of our lives.  We pray, come to worship, and maintain our spiritual lives with the same enthusiasm with which we approach brushing our teeth.  It just becomes a routine chore.  Yes, we realize it is essential, but we almost do it in our sleep.
  2. Secondly, we fool ourselves into thinking we control all aspects of our lives. And here, we either take credit for everything that has gone well for us or take the blame for everything that has gone wrong.  And either of those sides of that equation can be equally distracting and can entomb us. It has often been said that 90% of our lives are beyond our control, and the 10% we control is mostly attitude.

So, what is it that we need to wake up to:

  1. A renewed desire to reflect daily on who God is and how God can guide our lives. To read and reflect daily on Scripture, to pray daily for our needs and the needs of the world
  2. To wake up to a new desire to work for the kingdom of God. It is a well-known fact that in most congregations, 20% of the membership does 80% of the work.  It is time for each of us to wake up and ponder if we are in the 20 or 80 percent.   Where can you serve, you might ask?
    1. Are a few empty seats in the Choir, and can you carry a tune? In most congregations, choir members come out for rehearsals one night a week for about an hour. They have a wonderful time of fellowship and comradery.  But they also have a deep desire to help the congregation feel God’s presence through the music they prepare.  Perhaps some of you could help to fill those empty seats.
    2. Sunday School teachers. I’ve never worked with a congregation with too many Sunday School teachers.  You can start simply as a helper in a class. It is often noted that the best way to learn scripture is to teach it.  Most congregations use a curriculum that gives you everything you need in the way of background and ways to teach the text.  As you prepare, you learn, and others also grow in their faith.
    3. Church properties need tender loving care and upkeep. Can you give some time to help clean out the plant beds or help clean up some of the corners of the church property that don’t get much attention?
    4. In the neighborhoods surrounding every congregation, there are soup kitchens, homeless shelters, clothing closets, and food pantries serving those who need help. Can you give some of your time to help those in need?
    5. Here at the Board of World Mission, we always need volunteers to fill mission teams. We need carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, and any type of contractor who can help willing volunteers to complete projects in areas where storms, earthquakes, or the injustice of poverty have hit.
  3. The same 20/80% ratio can be found in the financial giving that supports most congregations. Giving should always be based on something other than what your congregation needs to survive.  Financial stewardship is a spiritual discipline, and as a result, it should be reflective of your ever-deepening relationship with God.   “Wake up!” Jesus says.  The biblical challenge is to give proportionally from that which you have been blessed, 10% or a tithe.  Again, here at the Board of World Mission, we depend on folks being willing to share their financial blessings when disasters strike around the world or when we want to help a particular part of the Moravian world train their pastors or provide education for their children.

One of the fascinating conversations in this account is the one that Martha and Jesus share.  There we see that after Jesus states that he is the resurrection and the life, he turns to Martha and asks, “do you believe this?”  Fundamentally, this is the question that should wake us all up: “Do you believe this?”  Do you believe that Jesus can wake us from the slumber that can often visit our spiritual lives to feel God’s active and dynamic presence in our lives? Can this new awareness of God’s presence stir you to serve others locally and globally?

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